18 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 26)

Here area a few more photos of the interior of the Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Montrésor. The church was built between 1519 and 1541, during what has come to be known as the French Renaissance.

The "Stations of the Cross" — a series of works depicting Jesus on the day of his crucifixion — in the Montrésor church are in the style of the one on the left. The legend below the sculpture here says "Jesus stripped of his clothes."

The middle window behind the altar is an example of early Renaissance stained glass, according to what I've read. I posted a close-up of part of the window a few days ago. The style of the church itself is late Gothic, with Renaissance elements. Very few churches were built in the Touraine region in the 1500s, according to the Wikipedia article about this one.

The elaborate carvings on the wooden choir stalls date back to the Renaissance too. Like many churches, the one in Montrésor suffered major damage during the French revolution in the 1790s.

In the mid- to late 19th century the church was restored, as many churches were, when France became interested in its great historical monuments. Luckily, even though big parts of the church at Montrésor were dismantled and damaged, many of the elements you see here ended up stored in the church building and could be put back in place. The Polish aristocrat named Branicki who acquired the château in those years also financed much of the church restoration.

17 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 25)

Chateau sights... Remember that piano that my friend Laurie played... the one in the château that was played by Chopin in Paris before the piano was brought to the Loire Valley? On another trip to Montrésor, I went inside and there was another château visitor playing it.

And here's another picture of the exterior of the building that shows can give you some perspective on the size of the place because there's a man in the photo walking on the path toward the main gate.

And a video grab that shows how the château dominates the houses in the oldest part of the village. Remember, there are about 300 houses in the village.

Finally, a religion-themed photo for a Sunday. This is a painting that hangs on a wall in the château, not the church.

We have a big week coming up. Walt's birthday is on Thursday. We have a dîner d'anniversaire to shop for and to cook. On Friday, an old friend arrives from England. She used to live here but moved back the the U.K. a few years ago. We'll be really happy to see her again. Then, of course, Christmas is a week from tomorrow. Walt went to the market in Saint-Aignan and ordered a turkey, which I will go pick up next Saturday and cook on Christmas morning. Gobble gobble. Weather forecasts say the holiday season will be chilly but dry this year.

16 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 24)

Four or five more houses... The first photo shows a couple of them that sit under the tall towers of the medieval fortifications. Not really reassuring for the occupants, I imagine.

The house below looks intriguing. I'd love to see the inside. I wonder if the top floor is just one room.

Nice flowers in window boxes below. I'm not sure I understand where the front door is.

And you might recognize the house below. It's the biggest house in the village, sans aucun doute.

* * * * * * *

We had a surprise "hailstorm" yesterday afternoon. Ice pellets fell fast enough to over the glass top of the greenhouse and dot the Velux roof windows, but the ice melted pretty fast because the temperature was well above freezing.

15 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 23)

The Polish aristocrat who acquired the château at Montrésor in the mid-19th century possessed, according to the French Wikipedia article about him, une immense fortune. He collected a lot of fine artwork to decorate the château and its gardens.

One of the most striking pieces is an enormous marble sculpture of "The Fallen Archangel" by an Italian artist named Constantino Corti.

In French, I've seen this work called « L'Archange déchu » but also simply « L'Ange déchu ». The fallen archangel is Lucifer (a.k.a. Satan), no? The sculpture was installed at Montrésor in the late 1860s, just a few years before the death of Corti (1823-1873).

The Polish owner of the château was Xavier Branicki. He was a hunter, philanthropist, art collector, financier... and the major of Montrésor from 1860 to 1870.

14 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 22)

Details and the big view... Going back through all these photos, I've come to appreciate the beauty of Montrésor more than I ever did before. Actually, four of these photos could have been taken anywhere in Touraine, the Blois area, or the neighboring Berry province. Montrésor has a lot of pretty places to compete with — including Saint-Aignan and Montrichard.

April 2006

April 2006          

Sept. 2012          

May 2006

May 2006

Except for the picture of the cat, I took all these photos in Montrésor on pretty spring days in 2006. The cat encounter on a village street took place in 2012, and the animal's green eyes and green collar on the gray background of its fur mimics the splashes of color — shutters, windows, doors, plants, flowers — on gray backgrounds you frequently see in French villages and towns.

13 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 21)

Five more Montrésor church photos... This makes three weeks I've been posting photos I've taken in one village over the past dozen years. I have a few more in my archives, and I might just continue posting Montrésor photos as we move into the holiday season.

Most of us, when we go touring around, just wander and look for striking, colorful, interesting, and unusual things to look at and point the camera at. That's what I do. And I hope you enjoy the photos.

It's the atmosphere of a village, château, or church that we are interested in. It's not so much the historical or architectural details that matter.

In other words, a blog like this one is not an encyclopedia. It's more like a magazine.

Writing encyclopedia articles is a lot of work. As a retired person and senior citizen, I don't go out looking for work. I have plenty of that to do in the kitchen, yard, and garden.

12 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 20)

Heads or tails no heads... but hands. Inside the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church in Montrésor, you can see the tombs of the family that had the church built nearly 500 years ago. The family name was Batarnay (sometimes spelled Bastarnay) and Imbert de Bastarnay was an advisor to and confidant of several French kings back then.

"Recumbent" statues of the deceased (father, mother, and son) adorn the tombs. These kind of statues are called gisants in French, from the "defective" verb gésir meaning "to lie (down)" or "to be lying (down)" — not to be confused with telling lies. Other forms of this irregular verb appear as ci-gît [name] meaning "here lies [name of deceased person]"... and also gîte meaning vacation or holiday rental house. A gîte is a hare's nest, where the animal lies down to sleep. Gîte means "shelter" in this context.

The author of the Cadogan guide to the Loire Valley says that the gisants at Montrésor are "fine effigies" that make the Batarnays "look rather like a family tucked up in bed with their heads deep in their stone pillows." Imbert de Batarnay reportedly lived to the ripe old age of 85.

The hands are striking. Why are people who look like they are dead or sleeping holding their hands up in such a prayerful pose?

The Batarnays are luckier than the saints whose statues adorn the façade of the Montrésor church. Those statues are headless thanks to the pillaging and plundering of churches that went on at the time of the French Revolution.

11 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 19)

Montrésor en hiver. A wintertime shot through the bare branches of a tree.

February 2005

We're having strong winds and some rain this morning. Tree branches are down in the yeard. We had very hard rain for a couple of hours yesterday morning. Winter is asserting itself. This is typical weather for the season. The good news is that it's a warm storm. (Positive) 9ºC this morning (nearly 50ºF).

10 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 18)

Quelques maisons... The four houses pictured here are in Montrésor. There are quite a few houses in Montrésor but not very many permanent residents — just 350.  (Warning: this is a nerdy post full of statistics.)

According to the French Wikipedia article on the town (commune) of Montrésor, quoting French government statistics, nearly one in five logements (housing units) in the village is vacant. Another 20% of the village's logements are occupied only seasonally or occasionally. There are 280 logements in all.

In other words, only about 60% of the village's logements are occupied on a permanent basis as somebody's résidence principale. In the rest of the département (the Indre-et-Loire, pop. 600,000), which is centered on the city of Tours, the percentage of logements that are résidences secondaires (second homes) is only 4.4%. The number of second homes as a percentage of Montrésor's total housing stock has increased from 9% fifty years ago to 21% today. Well-to-do people who live in Paris and other cities famously have maisons de campagne (country houses) to which they can retreat for vacations and weekends. Often these houses have been inherited.

For comparison purposes, in the village where we live (pop. 1,100) there are more than 600 logements and, as in Montrésor, nearly 20% of them are occupied only seasonally or occasionally. However, only 3.5% of the logements here are vacant, compared to nearly 20% in Montrésor. In the "hamlet" or neighborhood we live in, there are nine houses and only five of them are anybody's principal residence. The other four are vacation/holiday/country homes that are only occasionally occupied.

One major difference between our village and Montrésor is the land area each occupies. Montrésor is about one square kilometer, while our village covers 32 square kilometers (12 sq. mi.) of territory. In what I consider the Saint-Aignan "metropolitan area" — four towns/villages covering about 80 square kilometers (30 sq. mi.), pop. 8,300 —  there are about 4,600 logements and about 10% are second or vacation homes, not résidences principales. In a similar area of 83 sq. km. around Montrésor (three other villages included), there are about 1,500 permanent residents. The Montrésor area is really sparsely populated.

09 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 17)

In my archives I recently found this photo from the year 2000, the first time I ever saw the town of Montrésor and its château. We were driving from Loches over towards Burgundy, and we had a memorable lunch in Valençay that day — for the atmosphere as much as the food. I had lived in Paris and Normandy years earlier.

We had rented a nice Renault station wagon [pictured below] for a couple of weeks. We spent the first week in the Loire Valley, based in Vouvray, just exploring, taking photos, eating, and drinking the local wines. I had driven through the Loire Valley three for four times in my life but I hadn't ever spent more that 24 hours here.

During that week in October 2000, I was just starting to realize how many small, off-the-beaten-track châteaux and churches dotted the Loire Valley countryside. I really enjoyed talking and listening to people speak French, because the Loire Valley accent and usage are the international standard for spoken French. I knew I wanted to come back one day. What I didn't know wwas that we'd be living here starting in 2003.

08 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 16)

Montrésor's other monument and landmark: the Renaissance-era church. It dominates the east side of the village. Built in the early 1500s, it is known especially for being the final resting place of the Bastarnay family, who owned the château back then.

L'Eglise St-Jean-Baptiste in Montrésor is (or was) a "collegiate church," which means worship services there were organized by a "college of canons" — a non-monastic community of clergymen. It was run on the model of a cathedral, but there was no bishop in residence. Saint-Aignan also has a collegiate church.

The church "looks disproportionately grand for a small village," says the author of the Cadogan guide to the Loire Valley. The college canons didn't survive the French Revolution of 1789, but the church was then and is still today the local parish church.

St-Jean-Baptiste church is basically a Gothic-style building but with important Renaissance features, including the front portal. Two Renaissance-era stained-glass windows in the church have survived to the present day.

On another subject, it seems strange to be writing this blog about life in France without mentioning the deaths of two major 20th- and 21st-century figures here: the 93-year-old author and French Academy member Jean d'Ormesson, and the 74-year-old rock-and-roll singer and master showman (bête de scène) Johnny Hallyday — "the French Elvis" as the U.S. press liked to call him. May both rest in peace.

07 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 15)

Little towns like Montrésor are not especially prosperous. Montrésor depends a lot on tourism for its revenues. When you see how many houses there are in the village, it's surprising that the population is only 350.

Two hundred years ago, more than 700 people lived in Montrésor. The population has been steadily declining ever since. Optimists point out that the population has held steady at about 350 over the past 30 years. Still, there are empty storefronts around the town.

The size of the average household in Montrésor is just 1.9 persons. The village is isolated in many ways. There aren't any main highways. There's no industry any more. The average age of its inhabitants is rising. Younger people find larger towns like Loches (pop. 6,500) and nearby cities like Tours (pop. 136,000, but nearly 500,000 in its metropolitan area) more attractive as places to live, work, and raise families.

There's one small grocery store but no supermarket in or near Montrésor. It's a 20-minute drive over to Loches, or 25 minutes up to Saint-Aignan or Montrichard, or down to Châtillon-sur-Indre, where there are supermarkets, weekly open-air markets, and other shops and businesses. You couldn't call Montrésor a ghost town, but... Personally, I wouldn't want to live there — even though it is one of the plus beaux villages de France.

06 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 14)

It's not all about the château in Montrésor. I have hardly mentioned the Renaissance-era church yet. And there are a lot of beautiful houses all around the village.

The old stone staircases are a feature you see all around Touraine. Hollyhocks (roses trémières, they're called) and rose bushes are numerous in little towns and villages like Montrésor — not to mention all the geraniums in window boxes. The flowers are splashes of color against the old stone buildings.

Seventeen years ago, Walt and I came to Touraine with an old friend from California who had never visited this part of France before. It was October, and we enjoyed nice sunny weather. On our first full day, we decided to leave the car parked in the driveway and jus walk all around the area where we were staying (Vouvray). Our friend was taking photos with a film camera.

The second day we drove down to Chenonceaux to see the château there, and then continued on to Montrichard. At mid-day, our friend said: "Why didn't you tell me yesterday that everywhere you go here is so picturesque? I've already used up almost all my film, so now I need to go buy some more!"